A state secretary from Norway’s foreign ministry became the first high-ranking Norwegian politician in several years to travel to China and shake hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping. It was only the second time a Norwegian official has been welcomed in China since the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010.
The prize enraged Chinese officials, who immediately cut off top-level political relations with Norway. The diplomatic freeze between Norway and China has mostly continued but this weekend, State Secretary Tone Skogen from the Conservative Party was in Beijing.
Development bank meeting
The occasion for her visit was the opening meeting of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), launched by the Chinese government to help develop infrastructure and “other productive sectors in Asia” including energy and power, transportation and telecommuications, water and sewage systems and environmental protection. It’s meant to “complement and cooperate with” other multilateral development banks.
Norway has supported the project along with many other countries and its membership took effect in late December after being approved by the Norwegian Parliament. Norway will contribute capital equivalent to USD 110 million and post guarantees for another USD 440 million. That puts Norway on the line for nearly NOK 5 billion.
“Norway has high expectations that the AIIB will become an important player in financing infrastructure in Asia, and that it will help fight poverty and contribute towards further development,” Skogen stated in a press release before leaving for Beijing.
She attended the opening meeting on Saturday in Beijing, where the bank was officially declared “open for business,” and she was on the list of speakers. She also shook hands with China’s president along with representatives of the other 56 member nations of AIIB.
“We’re impressed that China has established AIIB in such a short time and has also appointed an extremely competent board,” Skogen told newspaper Aftenposten after a busy weekend of meetings on Sunday.
She said that Norway believed it was “important to support this important and very positive Chinese initiative.” Asked whether Norway’s participation, and her presence in Beijing, can help thaw the diplomatic freeze between Norway and China, Skogen answered diplomatically as well:
“We’re supporting AIIB beause it’s an excellent initiative, and because the bank has potential to play an important role along with the the World Bank and other international institutions that contribute to development.
“To the degree our engagement sends a signal, it would have to be that Norway will gladly cooperate with China in a multilateral perspective. Our wish to normalize the bilateral relationship is already well-known.” She added that there were, “naturally enough,” no “bilateral meetings” between Norway and China on the agenda in connection with AAIB’s official opening.